To date, US President Barack Obama’s efforts to appease or engage Islamists have either failed or backfired. US influence in the Mideast is at an all-time low and Islamic fundamentalism continues to gain strength at an alarming pace.
Egypt, which until a year ago was regarded by the US as an ally, is perhaps the most dramatic example of Obama’s complete failure to understand the nature of the region and the steps that must be taken to stabilize it. The current horrors and barbarism in Syria should not divert attention from events in Egypt, the outcome of which is likely to have a major impact on the entire region.
Obama’s first blunder in Egypt was the antagonism he displayed toward President Hosni Mubarak. Immediately following his first election, Obama insisted on inviting members of the outlawed Moslem Brotherhood to his Cairo address. As a result, Mubarak boycotted the event.
Obama displayed the full extent of his contempt for Mubarak when the public riots first erupted against the Egyptian regime when he called on him to step down immediately. This provided an opening to the Islamists and sent shock waves throughout those Arab regimes that regarded themselves as US allies.
While there is no disputing that Mubarak was an odious authoritarian leader, he was considered a moderate within the context of the Arab world, a loyal ally of the US, and a combatant of Islamic terrorism — facts whose implications Obama either inexplicably failed to grasp or naively chose to ignore.
The Obama administration’s greatest failure with regard to Egypt has been its inexcusable and naive mischaracterization of the Moslem Brotherhood. The Moslem Brotherhood is a fanatical Islamist organization, established in 1928 with the objective of imposing medieval Islamic sharia law throughout the world, employing violence and terror to achieve the goal. The organization was suppressed for most of its 85-year history, and many of its leaders were jailed in Egypt during the Mubarak era.
The Brotherhood opposes freedom of religion and incites hatred against Christians and Jews, demanded the death penalty for apostates, homosexuals and adulterers and has relegated women to third-class status. It engineered the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Despite this damning record, the Obama administration has inexplicably characterized the Moslem Brotherhood as a moderate movement and suggested that it could become part of a multicultural, Egyptian democratic government that could collaborate with other secular, liberal political streams.
Obama could not have been more wrong. When Mohamed Morsi, one of the Moslem Brotherhood’s leading members took over the reins of government (gaining just 25% of the electoral vote due to the organizational chaos of his opponents), he began purging non-Brotherhood government officials and replacing them with Islamists and their cronies.
Instead of focusing on stabilizing the economy and reaching out to other factions, his new parliament concentrated on outlawing foreign languages in state schools and sanctioning female genital mutilation. During Morsi’s brief tenure, Islamists made major inroads in the Sinai and the provinces where radical elements succeeded in killing Egyptian military and police, murdering Christian Copts, who comprise 10% of the population, and burning and desecrating more than 50 of their churches.
President Morsi would have confronted the US and introduced amendments to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, had Egypt’s economic crisis not demanded his full attention. Much like Hitler, Morsi moved determinedly toward dictatorship.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of Egyptians became enraged. More than 30 million people signed a petition calling for Morsi to step down. Minister of Defense, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who Morsi had appointed, demanded that the government be more inclusive. But Morsi ignored the calls, and the army intervened. Violence erupted, he and other Moslem Brotherhood leaders were arrested, and more than a thousand Brotherhood supporters were killed in riots. Egyptians strongly supported the army and its imposition of martial law. As of now, the military has the upper hand and violent resistance from Brotherhood elements has apparently been suppressed.
Throughout this period of chaos and collapse, the Obama administration did nothing more than call for a re-instatement of a democratic government that never existed. In their last conversation, Obama assured Morsi that he continued to regard him as the democratically elected President of Egypt. While Obama hitherto had avoided severing relations with Egypt, he outraged many Egyptians by criticizing General El-Sisi, but supporting the repressive and murderous Moslem Brotherhood, whose stated objective is the transformation of Egypt into an Islamist state.
In contrast to Obama’s fantasies, Israeli leaders are focused on realities and fully aware of the risks that Egypt’s instability poses to Israeli security. They recognize that a fanatical Islamic dictatorship allied with an organization that created Hamas and utterly committed to the elimination of Jewish sovereignty, is a disastrous scenario.
However, Israel has also learned from experience that the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend. Mubarak had exploited anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism amongst the Egyptian people in order to divert attention from economic and domestic problems.
There is thus always a remote possibility that a desperate Egyptian military government could turn on Israel to divert attention from domestic problems. (Indeed, some elements within the Tamarod movement, which facilitated the military coups, have displayed anti-Semitic tendencies and called for an end to dependence on the US and the severing of ties with Israel, and Al Ahram, the most widely circulated Egyptian daily newspaper, has warned of a “Zionist-American-Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy against Egypt.”)
Nonetheless, we recognize that a military regime is far preferable to a Moslem Brotherhood dictatorship that created Hamas, considers Israel Moslem territory that must one day be regained, and is notorious for its feral anti-Semitism, with its leaders continuously referring to Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs” and “vampires”.
However, the Egyptian military has already reined back Hamas and closed many of the tunnels through which arms were being transferred to Islamic extremists in Sinai. There are also reports of close cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian military authorities in neutralizing threats from terrorists in Sinai.
In Egypt today the choice between the Egyptian army and the Moslem Brotherhood is clear. Despite the justifiable repugnance of military juntas, there should be no equivocation. While the Obama administration obsessively attempts to impose democracy on a society that lacks democratic political experience, it is potentially enabling the most populous Arab state to be controlled by tyrannical, Jihadist autocrats.
By failing to support the Egyptian military, the US may also be fostering Egypt’s economic and social collapse. That Obama is considering abrogating economic aid to Egypt suggests that the US has not absorbed the lessons arising from Jimmy Carter’s naïve and disastrous approach to Iran, which paved the way for the ayatollah’s takeover. Without urgent, remedial aid to Egypt, which depends on imports for the bulk of its food and is rapidly running out of hard currency, total economic meltdown, hunger, riots and even civil war are likely.
In addition, ongoing US pressure to “democratize” Egypt could enable Putin to restore the Russian-Egyptian nexus which prevailed prior to Sadat’s break with the Soviet Union.
Instead of seeking to impose democracy from without, the US should support Egypt’s military government as a mechanism for forestalling the transformation of Egypt into a breeding ground for Jihadists and Al Qaeda.
Democracy is a gradual process which can only be developed from within and only after the formation of a functioning government authority. The majority of the Egyptian people are clearly totally opposed to an extremist Islamic takeover. The US and the West should welcome the collapse of the Moslem Brotherhood regime, as it represents a major blow to the globalization of Islamic fundamentalism — the greatest threat to the Western world and international stability.
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org